Your content marketing sucks.

Your content marketing sucks. Probably because you’re thinking about it like a trap: if I can just put enough juicy treats closer and closer to the middle, I can lure the customer in and BAM! Spring the trap. Got ’em. Content strategy for the win!

Problem is, consumers aren’t prey. Or, if they are, they’re sheep. But not how you think of them, where you’re the shepherd, guiding them to green pastures. And then the slaughter house. You’re not the shepherd.

You’re the grass.

Looking at it this way leads to different questions. How can I become as nutritious as possible (metaphorically speaking)? How can I become so essential to my customers’ lives that they happily consume me? Instead of outwitting your customer, you are essential to their health, happiness, and wellbeing.

Don’t be the shepherd. Be the grass.

Art vs. Science in the advertising industry

“It’s as much art as it is science.”

I heard myself say that at the best Ohio ad agency this week… and vomited a little in my mouth.

In advertising, the age-old argument of “Art vs. Science” is a false dichotomy that misunderstands both. Art (creative) doesn’t seek the abstract, and science (analytics/measurement/effectiveness) doesn’t seek certainty.

Both seek Continue reading “Art vs. Science in the advertising industry”

Change the oil change business

I recently got an oil change at one of those quick-change places– you know, the ones that smell like burnt coffee? It got me thinking– this is a market that will exist for the foreseeable future. It’s also a commodity market– they all compete on price and there’s little product/service differentiation. It’s also a bit of a confusopoly. But does it have to be? Continue reading “Change the oil change business”

The problem with the “Maker” movement – Or, how to properly sell a handmade leather bag

The Maker movement is a return to valuing craftsmen (and women), and the incredible, hand-made quality of the goods they produce. There are some bad-ass makers out there. There’s even a really cool Tumbler dedicated to those who make. But the problem is, when people write about the makers, they write about the makers. Where they came from. What job they left to pursue their passion for Making. For example, I make handmade leather goods— briefcases, bracelets, knife sheathes. All hand cut, riveted, and finished. It’s detailed, painstaking work. And I love it. I taught myself how to make this stuff back in college because I couldn’t find a leather briefcase I liked enough to spend my cash on. Then, I went into the workforce as a marketer. It was a great experience, but it left me wanting more. Wanting to feel like I would have something to point to other than piles of money and long-forgotten ad campaigns. So, I started making handmade leather goods again.

handmade leather bag in process, made by Seth Gray handmade leather bag made by Seth Gray

handmade leather bag being inspected by Seth Gray

But who really cares? Nobody. What does that tell you about the leather goods I make or why you might like to carry around one of my handmade leather briefcases? Nothing. So why do bloggers and media types keep using that angle? Maybe it’s because we want to have a more personal connection with the things we buy. Maybe because we want to live better, not just have more stuff anymore. I don’t know. I do think the Maker movement deserves better, though. I’m  a marketing strategist by education and experience. I’ve made my clients and employers hundreds of millions of dollars by helping them tell clear, compelling, consistent stories about their products and services. One of the most effective ways to do that is to stop talking about the product. And stop talking about the company. Instead, talk to the customer. Let them know you understand their trials and triumphs, and that’s why you made your product. Then, give a couple examples. Something like this:

In a world of disposable razors, paper plates, and ephemeral communication, you’re yearning for something real. Something that’ll get scratched and dented, but still work. Something that your kids will pass down to their kids. That’s why I use super-tough, vegetable-tanned 7 ounce leather in my handmade bags. That’s why I saddle-stitch all the seams with braided, waxed nylon thread– these handmade leather bags are put together so tightly they hold water (for a few minutes). Not that you’d want to. You’d probably rather carry your laptop, iPad, and Moleskine, instead. Sure, you could get something from a leather shop in the mall for half the price. But that was probably made by unskilled laborers working 16 hours a day in a factory in china. Your handmade leather bag, the one you really want, was made with my calloused hands on a second-hand workbench. Your bag, the one your grandkids will bring when they come visit you on your front porch, took longer to make so that it’ll outlast you.

Handmade leather bag made by Seth Gray

handmade leather bag for laptops

handmade leather bag with an iPhone 5 pocket

Perfect? Nope. But neither are my handmade leather bags. And perfect isn’t always best. -Seth

UPDATE: my handmade leather bag that will outlast you is now for sale at Beauty and the Biker handmade leather goods.

Handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you
Tan colored Handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you

front/side view of dark brown sunburst handmade leather bag
Dark brown sunburst handmade leather briefcase that will outlast you.

How To Promote Music – 3 Lessons From Daytrotter

How To Promote Music - 3 Lessons from Daytrotter.com

Daytrotter, yer doin it right. Also, I <3 you.

For those of you unfamiliar with Daytrotter, here’s how it works: they bring kick-ass bands to The Horseshack recording studio in Rockford, IL, record the bands live, and put the recording on Daytrotter.com. Yesterday, they announced a brilliant promo called Daytrotter Presents #1. Buy a membership (for you or someone else) and they’ll send you the 12″ split record with The Civil Wars and The Lumineers for free. Both are fantastic bands.

But let’s look past the music. I think there are three lessons on how to promote music, from Daytrotter.

  1. Limited physical quantities: Daytrotter is only going to press as many records as are pre-ordered. Simple. People will still buy something if it’s special enough. Bonus: they’ve drastically reduced their risk by only pressing what’s ordered, vs trying to guestimate how many might be ordered. How could you limit your inventory exposure and make your customers feel special?
  2. The music is (essentially) free: buy an annual membership and get The Civil Wars and The Lumineers 12″ split for free on top of all the other great stuff behind the paywall. The membership is only $2/month for unlimited consumption of Daytrotter sessions. You probably spend more than $2 a day in gas driving to and from work. Crazy cheap. It’s more like payfence than a paywall.
  3. They’re targeting current members: current Daytrotter members can get the album for free if they buy a membership for someone else. This appeal has three parts: look cool for tipping a friend off to rad new music, be nice by giving the friend access, and get something tangible for yourself. Put some brightly-colored Ray-Bans on it and it’s the ultimate hipster trap. Plus, current customers should be your best evangelists. How often do you empower your customers?
  4. Bonus point! It’s actually a limited-time promotion. They’re taking orders until July 3rd. That’s it. If this one goes well, I’m sure they’ll do a Daytrotter Presents, #2. Are you one of those companies that always has some sale going on? Quit it. It takes the special-ness away.

What do you think? What’s your favorite example of somebody doin it right?

Why I Hate Teaching

I love education. But I hate teaching. Far too often we confuse the two, and I think that’s a big reason the US education system is the battered & bruised behemoth it is. Well, that and demagoguery by pusillanimous politicians.

If you look at how the US education system evolved, there are striking similarities to how our workforce evolved. The industrial revolution turned farmers with broad skill sets into incredibly specialized factory workers. Schooling moved from truly individualized curriculum in the living room, to a rigid, standardized, curriculum-driven classroom. Mass production meant less variation. Mass education meant we could educate more kids in a standardized system, as long as they fit in within the system. It meant less tolerance for “abnormal” kids.

Back in the day, Horace Mann thought that “public education was the best way to turn the nation’s unruly children into disciplined, judicious republican citizens.” He thought a standardized approach to education would level the playing field for kids from all socioeconomic backgrounds. Give them all a fair shot at the American dream. Lofty goal. A goal I agree with. But what happened was factory farms and factory education.

And it’s not that people haven’t been trying to make reforms– they have. For a long time. Back in the early 1900’s, John Dewey was pushing the idea of “Progressive Education.” He argued (rightly, I think) for a more balanced approach to education. According to Wikipedia, “The problem was that Dewey and the other progressive theorists encountered a highly bureaucratic system of school administration that in general was not receptive to new methods.” That rings true today, too. Massive, entrenched institutions are structured to preserve the status quo.

A more balanced approach to education?

But the status quo isn’t working. Obviously. Something needs to change. Just like Dewey, and Maria Montessori before him, I’m arguing for a more balanced approach to education. Rather than teacher-centric, vs. content-centric, vs. student-centric, it ought to be more collaborative. Maria Montessori put it best: “Education should no longer be mostly imparting of knowledge, but must take a new path, seeking the release of human potentialities.” There are people pushing for this today. Marshall Kirkpatrick wrote an article on RWW about how How YouTube is Part of a Global Economic Transformation. From the article: “It has become increasingly evident that to realize human potential in today’s societies and economies, lifelong learning is required, not just an initial period of formal schooling.” Hell yes.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the US education system has failed. Or that it’s terrible. Or that I hate teachers and textbooks. On the contrary. I think that on the whole, we’ve tried our best. But we can do better. Because in our attempt to give our national treasures an equal shot at success, we forgot that “equal” doesn’t mean they should be treated like so much carbon in a diamond factory.

Our children are not factory-made. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses. Each has unique experiences that will inform their learning. If we can minimize the demagoguery and leverage some of the amazing technologies (iPads, serious games, the friggin internet) to create mass-customized learning, we can help each of our precious stones polish themselves into the gem they can be.

 

 

A Musician’s Opinion on the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA)

I am a musician. I write, record, and play songs. I spend months pouring my deepest feelings into a dozen or so 3 minute tunes.

In the good ol’ days, I could’ve signed a deal with some huge record label, borrowed a ridiculous amount of money from them to record those songs, and end up putting 2 good songs, 5 mediocre songs, and 3 terrible songs on an album.

Then, I could have signed a distribution deal with some other company, where they’d promise to get my darling little album into those beacons of art-loving culture everywhere: Walmart, Best Buy, and Target. Of course, the distribution company would have charged me a “breakage fee” that is the same percentage as when they were distributing vinyl records, not virtually indestructible CDs. Oh, they’d also charge that breakage fee on digital downloads.

Then, if anybody bought my 2/5/3 (good/boring/bad)  album, the retailer takes a cut, the distributor takes a cut, the label takes a cut and repays themselves (with loan-shark-level interest) that fat loan I took to record. Then, if there’s anything left, I’d get about $0.50 an album. That’s $0.05 per song, for you non-math types. Seems like an awful lot of hullaballoo for me to earn $0.05 per song.

******

Stop SOPA and PIPA

As a musician, I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by litigating their customers into obedience. I don’t need those companies who are trying to preserve a bloated, dead business model by censoring the Internet with asinine, heavy-handed legislation like the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA).

 

SOPA and PIPA would let a company effectively obliterate a website if it contained a link to a download copyrighted material. Or if a site visitor posted a copyrighted picture or quote. No due process. No nothing. Just, pow! Gone from the DNS. Gone from the DNS, but not gone from the Internet– anyone could still get to the “offending” website by typing in the website’s IP address. So gone. But not. And you and I both know that the “pirates” will just type in the damn IP address.

I don’t need that huge loan to record some songs anymore. I can do it with my computer and less than $500 worth of gear in my basement.

 And I don’t need that distribution deal anymore. I can effectively and efficiently deliver my music to anyone in the world who has Internet access.

And I don’t need those retailers anymore, either. I can use places like AmazonMP3. Or iTunes. Or Bandcamp. Or Soundcloud.

 

******

People who pirate music are actually just an under-served market segment. Music pirating is the market telling me it doesn’t value recorded music the way it used to. It’s my job as a business owner, then, to shift my unit of value to something the market is willing to pay for.

I actually do still purchase music– but not  nearly as much as I did before I signed up for Spotify. And if someone still wants to charge to sell their music, that’s fine with me– I just think it’s a stupid business decision. Instead, give the music away as a marketing campaign. Give it away in exchange for signing up for a mailing list. Or, give it away to anyone who comes to your show (give them a little card with a download link/code/something). Or, give it away to anyone who promises to share it with their friends. Use your recorded music as a way to get people to your shows, where you make money on ticket sales, merch, and a cut of the bar sales.

 

******

If you’d like to learn more, watch the video below. Then, once you’re sufficiently pissed off, do something about it.

Sign Google’s petition to End Piracy, Not Liberty.
If you’re an artist, sign this letter to Congress from Fight for the Future

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Top 5 Reasons I Hate Marketers

First, let me be clear: I’m talking about what you do, not about you as a human. Second, I’m a marketer, so I’m just as guilty as you from time to time. Speaking of which, you should listen to some of my music or even come to the Columbus Songwriter Circle. See what I did there? Anyway, here they are, the top 5 reasons I hate marketers:

  1. You typically over-promise and under-deliver. It’s like you’re afraid nobody will want your product unless you make outrageous claims. The consequence: nobody believes the marketing claims, and you have to make even more outlandish claims next time to catch attention. You’re making my job harder every time you stretch the truth. Stop it. Learn the difference between True stories and Truth Stories, and tell the latter.
  2. You typically don’t have a shred of actual empathy for the user. Sure, you’ve got your demographic research, feedback from vocal sales people. Stuff like that. You have generalities. Averages. The problem is, there actually is no average user. What if you flipped that thinking on its head? There are no average customers, but there are common trials and triumphs– understand those and your marketing will improve exponentially. Please do this one, k?
  3.  You hock stupid stuff. Let’s face it, most of the products you develop strategies, ads, and PPC campaigns for are pretty mediocre. That’s why they need you– they’re not good enough to spread through organic referrals. Or they are, but only to a niche market… and your client is bent on total world domination. Stop it. I understand needing a paycheck (and I’m fortunate enough to love what I do and get paid for it). I understand that you have to take clients that you’d rather not. But what if you refused to do work for 1 out of 4 new business prospects that you thought kinda sucked? Maybe some of you already do. Maybe more of us should.

Have you spotted the irony yet? A Top 5 list that’s actually only a 3 point rant (over-promise, under-deliver) about how there is no average user… directed at the average marketer. Look, I don’t actually hate you. I hate what you (and I) do from time to time. I’d just like to see more product marketing treat users like human beings.